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Canada's trees: Chinese tree-killing beetles found in Ontario

It begins as a tiny stowaway on a crate from Europe or Asia, a relocated piece of firewood, or just a mild winter. Within decades, millions of hectares of Canada's woodlands have been laid waste because of it. Armies of tiny insects have stripped city boulevards of stately elms and ruined billions of dollars worth of softwood. Since the 1950s, science has fought these invading waves of caterpillars and beetles using everything from DDT to pheromones and bacteria. But victory seems no closer in the fight to save Canada's trees.

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A pair of Chinese tree-killing beetles have just been found in Ontario, and there's nothing to be done except break out the chainsaws. The emerald ash borer was discovered in the Windsor area last year. This year, the Asian longhorn beetle turned up in Toronto. As we see in this clip, in an age of globalization, the onus is now on shipping inspectors to close our borders to any new invaders.
• The emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis) is a tiny (8.5 millimetre to 14 millimetre) beetle with an emerald green underside and an iridescent, metallic green backside. Its larvae chew through the outer bark of ash trees into the inner bark, creating S-shaped tunnels that cut off the flow of water and nutrients. The trees usually die within two to three years.

• The emerald ash borer is native to China and eastern Asia. It was first discovered in Canada in the summer of 2002. The ash borer has infested as many as 100,000 ash trees near Windsor, Ont. It is believed to have arrived on imported wood packing material.
• In southeastern Michigan, the emerald ash borer has killed an estimated six million ash trees.

• On Sept. 17, 2002, an area of quarantine against moving wood products without a license was established for all of Essex County. A "firebreak" — an eight to 10 kilometre-wide ash-free zone — was established along the leading edge of the infestation to attempt to halt the emerald ash borer's spread.
• In 2003 the Canadian Food Inspection Agency began using helicopter aerial surveillance to detect beetle damage not visible from the ground.

• The Asian long-horned beetle (Anoplophora glabripennis) is a shiny black beetle, 2.5-4 centimetres long, with white spots and long (up to 10 centimetre) antennae banded with black and white stripes. It attacks many different hardwood trees, favouring maples but also infesting birch, horse chestnut, poplar, willow, elm, ash, mulberry and black locust.
• Larvae burrow into the tree to feed, damaging nutrient flow. The beetles then emerge through perfectly round exit holes, a bit bigger than the diameter of a pencil.

• The Asian long-horned beetle is believed to have arrived in North America in 1996 in solid wood packing material from its native China. It devastated the tree canopies in parts of New York City and Chicago in the late 1990s. It was discovered in September 2003 in parts of Toronto and Vaughan, Ont. It has no known natural predators in North America and there is no known chemical or biological defence against it.

• There are dozens of other serious pests threatening Canadian forests. Many, like the forest tent caterpillar, can defoliate and damage trees but seldom kill them. Other, more deadly pests include the balsam woolly adelgid, Douglas-fir tussock moth, eastern blackheaded budworm, eastern larch beetle, gypsy moth, spruce beetle, western balsam bark beetle, and western blackheaded budworm.

• The Canadian Food Inspection Agency prohibits importing any untreated, non-manufactured wood packaging materials from any country except the United States. Wood packaging must be treated using an internationally approved method, and stamped with an official logo that says so. CFIA inspectors verify the regulations are being followed, and look for signs of living pests.
• In Japan, collecting live, exotic beetles has become trendy. Experts fear the bugs could be easily introduced to other ecosystems, with disastrous consequences.
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Oct. 10, 2003
Guest(s): Jon Bell, Scott Bishop, Ken Marchant, Larry Pedersen, Howard Stanley
Host: Wendy Mesley
Reporter: Ioanna Roumeliotis
Duration: 3:27

Last updated: February 3, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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